Lilly Barnett, an 11-year-old Harbeson girl who was severely injured in a 2011 Milford accident, was recognized by Gov. Jack Markell on May 7 after she wrote an award-winning essay for the American Mothers Fifth Grade Essay Contest, placing first in the state and third in the nation.

It’s been nearly three years since the Barnett family thought they might lose their little girl, and even though 11-year-old Lilly Barnett’s recovery is still a work in progress, her parents say every moment spent with their daughter has been a fairy tale.

“From the helicopter ride to the hospital to standing here in [Gov. Jack Markell’s] office, it’s been a fairy tale,” said Bryan Barnett to a room full of people gathered the governor’s office in Legislative Hall on May 7.

Lilly, who now is learning to walk again, suffered a brain injury after a serious crash in Milford in July 2011 placed her at A.I. DuPont Hospital for Children for six months. And even though doctors initially told her parents that she may be in a vegetative state for the rest of her life, Lilly has proven them wrong with a recent accomplishment that brought tears to her mother’s eyes.

Lilly still uses a wheelchair and travels to the hospital on a weekly basis, but with the help of her occupational therapist, the 11-year-old girl recently wrote an award-winning essay about how her mother has supported her.

The Barnett family was invited to Delaware’s capital on Wednesday to receive a tribute from Gov. Jack Markell after Lilly was named the winner of the Delaware American Mothers Fifth Grade Essay Contest, placing third on a national level.

Lilly’s essay, which is one page long, showcases her imagination, said her mother, Kelly. The essay itself takes a fairy-tale twist, as Lilly introduces a queen, king and two princesses, leading into this year’s theme “What My Mother Means to Me.”

“One day one of the princesses toppled off her horse and had to go to the hospital because she had a severe head injury. Her mom became her idol, her rock,” the essay reads. “This is the story of me and my mom.”

Kelly Barnett didn’t know about the essay at first, until her own mother, Stephanie McDonough, who was in the car during the accident, made the announcement over lunch one day.

“I read it, then started crying,” Kelly said, as her youngest daughter, Summer Barnett, 9, teased that her mother always reacts that way.

“This is awesome. It’s definitely more than I thought it would be,” Kelly said after everyone had gathered around her family to take pictures with the governor after Lilly received her tribute. “For Lilly being in a vegetative state to now, everything is amazing.”

Markell said he was thrilled to meet the Barnett family and Lilly, who he said was an inspiration.

“I think you are a role model,” Markell said to the fifth grader, who wore a polka-dot spring dress. “You are an example for other kids to follow.”

It was clear that Lilly was a good influence, as 9-year-old Summer simply couldn’t say enough about her big sister.

“Lilly’s worked so hard to be here right now, it’s an honor,” Summer said. “Some people might see her as a different girl in her wheel chair, but at home, she’s a normal girl doing everything I do.”

And Lilly had a message to share as well, in addition to an abundance of smiles and appreciation for the recognition.

“For all the other kids out there who aren’t feeling well or are sick, you can do it,” she said.

Kelly Barnett, who was obviously touched by her daughter’s loving essay, gently rubbed her Lilly’s leg after the ceremony was over and summed it all up as she looked at her girls:

“This is the best Mother’s Day present.”